Saturday, May 23, 2009

Virtual Meetings in Second Life

My social media marketing company Conversify recently held our first virtual team meeting in Second Life. We were looking for a compelling way to bring everyone together because we work from Alaska, Colorado, California, Wyoming, Florida and the UK. Many of our team members have never met in person, most haven't even spoken with one another over the phone.

What was surprising was that it was my business partner's idea to bring everyone together in Second Life - and only surprising because she hasn't spent a lot of time inworld and Second Life is more "my thing." Still, she realized the inherent value of bringing disparate workers together into a virtual space as a way of strengthening the team.

We didn't do anything special for our first meeting other than I laid out some comfortable teak lounge chairs for seating and had a cheese platter, coffee, daiquiris and tequila shots available for refreshments. All but one had voice so we were able to have essentially a conference call with over half a dozen people "on the line." The person who couldn't get their voice to work just used text chat.

The only structured thing we did was asked each person to introduce themselves to the others and tell everyone something interesting about themselves. Everyone came away from the event excited for a number of reasons, namely they were finally getting to meet team members and many of them were trying out Second Life for the first time so discovering it was a thrill.

Here are a few tips for holding meetings in Second Life:

1. Capacity. The biggest challenge with Second Life is technical, and making sure that each participant has a computer with the capacity to handle SL can take some time. Send them to the specs page for Second Life to verify that their system is suitable.

2. Appearance. Don't underestimate the importance of avatar appearance in an inworld meeting, especially if some people have more experience in Second Life than others. Those who are "noobs" could feel self-conscious about their appearance. One of our team members expressed feeling out of sorts because her avatar looked so terrible. I ended up shopping for several team members to purchase hair, skin, outfits, and great shoes for their first foray in a virtual world. (See 2nd photo above for the results).

3. Training. Understand that some of your team may need a little hand-holding. I talked several team members through the basics of walking and sitting, two essential actions that can actually take a while to figure out.

4. Voice. The beauty of using voice in SL is that you can see when someone is speaking (green sound waves over their head) and avatars can even gesture to give far more of a sense of presence than a telephone conference call. Voice, however, is only as good as the person's system and a USB headset with microphone is a must. We spent a good chunk of time troubleshooting everyone's sound.

5. Mics off. When using voice in SL, everyone who is not speaking at a given time should mute their sound to eliminate echoing which happens when someone is using voice without a headset. This works when people are taking turns speaking. However, in a natural conversation, either everyone must have headsets and have voice working properly or you may want to revert to text chatting.

6. Moderator. Even an informal chat needs a host or hostess to keep the conversation flowing. A more formal one - such as going around the room with introductions - can benefit from someone calling on the next person to speak. This can save time as people fumble about deciding who's next and accidentally talking over one another.

These are only a few lessons learned regarding meeting in the virtual world. Happy meeting!

What have you learned regarding holding meetings in Second Life?